In Their True Colors

Developing New Methods for Recoloring Faded Taxidermy

What’s the Word? A Glossary of Taxidermy Terms

In previous blog posts we described our condition and inventory survey of mammalian taxidermy. In completing that survey, we created this working glossary of terms to ensure that each conservator who participated in the survey shared a common understanding of terminology for taxidermy materials and techniques. We share the glossary below for others who may need to describe taxidermy in the context of its conservation.

If you have experience working with taxidermy and you use terms differently or use different terms altogether, leave them in a comment so we can add to our glossary!


Specimen

Mount – the taxidermy animal; the preserved skin of an animal that is secured/mounted over an internal form (manikin) and arranged in a life-like pose.

taxi_mount

Taxidermy mount of a slow loris. ©AMNH /F. Ritchie

The skin is typically secured via stitching, although nails and tacks have been used (and staples), or a combination of stitching and nails. [Note that study skins and mummies are not technically taxidermy.]

Shoulder Mount – the head and neck of the animal, the body has been mounted at the shoulder of the animal (see image of moose at the end of the post).

Trophy Mount – a shoulder mount, usually of a game animal.

Full Body Mount – full body of the animal is articulated in a life-like pose.

taxi_mount1

Taxidermy full body mount of a guenon monkey. ©AMNH /J. Bloser

Manikin – the internal form of the animal that the preserved hide is attached to. Note the spelling: “manikin” or “mannikin” is used when referring to anatomically correct forms, like research manikins used for CPR training. The “mannequin” spelling refers to fashion and other non-anatomically correct forms.

38b70db111560f095434d175c5df7713

“Alaskan Moose manikin in process, American Museum of Natural History,” Research Library | Digital Special Collections, accessed December 13, 2017, http://lbry-web-007.amnh.org/digital/items/show/25169.

ca0f0b35706d3d7f13dffb2a20a25d7e

“Manikin of Alaskan moose, ready for skin, American Museum of Natural History,” Research Library | Digital Special Collections, accessed December 13, 2017, http://lbry-web-007.amnh.org/digital/items/show/25302.

Stuffed animal – specimen produced using a method common in the 19th century and earlier in which the preserved animal skin was sewn and stuffed until full. This technique did not produce realistic-looking specimens. Once better techniques were developed (such as binding and the dermoplastic method), specimens were no longer stuffed in this manner. Today, museum-quality taxidermy is referred to as mounted, not stuffed (see “mount” above).

Binding method – technique in which wood wool or other loose materials are wrapped with string or thread to bind them in place and form musculature around an internal armature/frame to create the manikin for the specimen.

Dermoplastic method – developed by German ornithologist and taxidermist Phillip Leopold Martin (1850-1885) in Stuttgart and adapted by American taxidermist Carl Akeley, who began working at the American Museum of Natural History in 1909. A technique developed for creating highly detailed, anatomically accurate manikin. The German method is based on a highly detailed sculpted form onto which the skin, (tanned tawed, or even raw) would be placed. Akeley’s method is based on the preparation of a mold, taken from the sculpted animal. The light-weight manikin is cast inside the mold using papiermâché or reinforced plaster (or a number of other materials). [For more explanation, see “Care and Conservation of Natural History Collections.”]

manikin

Manikin constructed using the dermoplastic technique. “Indian lion, complete manikin, 1930 ,” Research Library | Digital Special Collections, accessed December 13, 2017, http://lbry-web-007.amnh.org/digital/items/show/47932.

Polyurethane foam – material used to make contemporary mass-produced manikins in common use today by commercial taxidermists. Polyurethane foam manikin are used with varying degrees of custom modification to suit the specific needs of a particular mount. Commercial taxidermists also use dense polyurethane for reproduction skulls/beaks.

Internal armature – sturdy wood, wire, and/or metal frame that provides internal structural support and defines the position of the mount, especially the limbs. The internal armature extends through hands and feet to attach the specimen to the display base (see x-radiograph below).

taxi_rat before treatment

Taxidermy kangaroo rat before treatment. ©AMNH /L. Kramer

taxi_rat BT XRAY

X-radiograph of taxidermy kangaroo rat before treatment revealing internal armature. Note the dense, white area at the head (most likely bone and plaster) and the wires (also appearing as white lines) that extend throughout the body, down into the wooden display base. X-ray taken at the Conservation Center at the Institute for Fine Arts at New York University. ©AMNH /L. Kramer

Wood wool/Excelsior – thin slivers of wood (wood shavings) may be used as stuffing or padding inside the animal, forming part of all of the internal manikin

Straw – thick vegetal material may be used as stuffing or padding inside the animal, forming part of all of the internal manikin

Cotton batting – cotton fibers may be used as stuffing or padding inside the animal, forming part of all of the internal manikin.

Papier-mâché – technique using strips of paper (and/or textile) built up in layers with adhesive to create a manikin

Plaster – gypsum or plaster of Paris may be used to form part or all of the manikin/specimen.

Shellac – natural resin that may be used to seal papier-mâché or plaster manikins to provide strength and prevent water damage.

Wax/pigmented wax – transparent or pigmented wax may be used to recreate areas of supple hairless skin on the nose, lips, and around the eyes. In these areas, the original skin dries out and shrinks once the animal is preserved, losing its natural appearance.

Paint – oil or acrylic (or other) paint may be applied to compensate for the loss of color that occurs once the animal dies, especially to hairless skin (ex, beaks/legs/feet/waddle of birds, faces of primates, etc.).

Earliner – rigid material that is inserted between the layers of skin in the ears of many animals for support. Today they are commonly made out of plastic, although historically lead and papiermâché were also used.

Jawset – recreation of top and bottom of jaw, including teeth and tongue. Jaw sets manufactured today are commonly made out of plastic.

Mouthcup/mouthpiece – recreation of the mouth, including surrounding flesh (cheeks and lips). Mouthcups manufactured today are commonly made out of plastic.

Eyes – eyes were traditionally made out of glass, but many of those manufactured today they are made of plastic.

Teeth – often the original skull and teeth were cleaned and used in historic taxidermy mounts; however, because teeth are prone to cracking and breaking, many contemporary mounts use plastic jawsets.

Antlers and horns – usually the originals from the animal are used in taxidermy mounts, although there may be fills, paints, or varnish added by the taxidermist.


Display Base

Base – an external supportive structure that a specimen is attached to make it stable for display. The base could be a flat piece of wood, a branch, fake rock, etc.

taxi_display base

Taxidermy full body mount of an armadillo on a display base. ©AMNH /F. Ritchie

The base is also sometimes called the mount, but because taxidermy specimens themselves are often called mounts, we prefer to use the alternative term “base”. 

Habitat base – a base with additional components resembling the habitat of the living animal, for example, grass, moss, snow, fern, etc.

taxi_habitat base

Taxidermy full body mount of a star-nose mole on a habitat base. ©AMNH /F. Ritchie

Panel – a wooden backing board that attaches the animal to a wall for display, particularly for trophy/shoulder mounts.

taxi_panel

Taxidermy shoulder mount of a moose, complete with wooden panel. ©AMNH /F. Ritchie

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2 comments on “What’s the Word? A Glossary of Taxidermy Terms

  1. Stephen Rogers
    December 14, 2017

    Technically you are incorrect on the use of the term Dermoplastic method (or Akeley method). The dermoplastic method can probably be attributed to Phillip Leopold Martin from Germany and he began using the method in the 1860’s/1870’s and published a number of books and an atlas showing various details of his books which were not generally illustrated (cira=tations below). This German method did not create a hollow body form but instead a highly detailed sculpted form onto which the skin, (tanned tawed, or even raw) would be placed. There were a number of tremendously skilled taxidermists in Europe who produced very good manikins using the Dermoplastic method. The first US book to detail the methods was Oliver Davie’s subscription edition of his Methods in the Art of Taxidermy which he credited Theodore Jasper an immigrant from Austria. I think the best examples of Dermoplastic methods were those done by Herman H. ter Meer which can be seen in the illustrations in the book by Hans Völkel, cited below.
    The Akeley method created a sculpture using the Dermoplastic method, but he took it much further by casting the sculpture and creating a hollow manikin which lightened up the finished product.

    Davie, Oliver. 1894. Methods in the Art of Taxidermy. Subscription edition. Published by author, Columbus, Ohio. xiv + 150 pp. + vii + xiii + 89 plates.

    Martin, Philipp Leopold. 1880. Die Praxis der Naturgeschichte. Ein vollstandiges Lehrbuch uber das Sammeln lebender und todter Naturkorper, deren Boebachtung und Pflege im freien und gefgenen Zustand etc. Nach den neuesten Erfahrungen herausgegeben. ZweiterTheil: Dermoplastik und Museologia oder das Modelliren der Thiere und das Aufstellen und Erhalten von Naturaliensammlungen. Unter Mitwirkung von Profesor Dr. Gustav Jager, Stadtdirektions-Artz Dr. Steudle und Thierarzt Paul Martin. Bernhard Friedrich Voigt, Weiner. xvi + 295 pp.

    Martin, Philipp Leopold. 1898. Die Praxis der Naturgeschichte. Ein vollstandiges Lehrbuch uber das Sammeln lebender und todter Naturkorper, deren Boebachtung und Pflege im freien und gefgenen Zustand etc. Nach den neuesten Erfahrungen bearbeitet. Erster Teil: Taxidermie enthalend die Lehre vom Sammeln, Praparieren, Konservieren und Ausstopfen der Tiere und ihrer Teile; nebst einem Anhang uber Sammeln von Pflanzen, Mineralien und Petrefakten. Vierte verbesserte Aufleage neu beareitet von Leopold Martin und Dr. Paul Martin, Mit Ph. L. Martins Bildnis sowie einem Atlas von Tafeln und mehreren Textabbildungen. Bernhard Friedrich Voigt, Weiner. x + 163 pp.

    (originally published in 1869. As Taxidermie oder die Lehre vom Konserviren, Präpariren und Naturaliersammeln auf Reisen, Ausstopfen und aufstellen der Thiere, Naturalienhandel, etc. B. F. Voigt, Weimar. 160 pp. A second edition of this classic work was published in 1876 with 216 pages.

    Martin, P. L. 1876. Atlas zur Praxis der Naturgeschichte. Erster Theil: Taxidermie oder Lehre vom Beobachten, Konserviren, Präpariren und Naturaliensammeln auf Reisen, Ausstopfen und Aufstellen der Thiere etc. B. F. Voigt, Weimar. 14 pp.

    This atlas apparently accompanied all of the volumes written by Martin. I am unaware if the atlas remained unchanged; the only copy I have been able to see is the 1876 version cited above which accompanied the second edition of Taxidermie… Plate one illustrates common tools, eyes, etc., used by the taxidermist; plate two shows some of the techniques used in mounting birds; plate three depicts pterylosis, bird attitudes, sexing, etc.; and plates four through ten are a collection of excellent sketches drawn by Martin.

    Völkel, Hans. 2004. Herman H. ter Meer. Ein Leben als Dermoplastiker und Küuntler. Leipzinger Universitätsverlag GmbH. Druckerei Hensel, Leipzig. 147 pp.

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